After yesterday’s flight drama, I was just glad and thankful to be put on the next available flight to London. The flight went well; it was about a third full so there was lots of space. Virgin Atlantic was not half bad, really.
I arrived at Heathrow Airport around 11 in the morning. Needing to get some pounds for the tube, I later found all the ATMs at Terminal 3 out of cash! I had to exchange US dollars for pounds, and don’t get me started on the exchange rate!
I bought an Oyster card and added 20 pounds to it. The underground tube system is pretty easy to navigate once you look at the map and see where they all interchange. I had booked a hostel located 2 mins off King’s Cross St. Pancras, on Gray’s Inn Road, and so it was just a matter of taking the tube there; it was a direct journey on the Piccadilly line. The train ride took about 45 mins and it was a really interesting journey. The airport is situated in Zone Six and I remember learning in Geography class that the city has concentric zoning. As the train traversed through the zones into Zone One, it’s kind of neat to observe the changes from suburban to urban. A family of about seven dressed in Chelsea gear got on. Those were some interesting sights of my first hour in London.
I finally reached King’s Cross St. Pancras and it was quite an overwhelming station to be at initially. It is a major tube station that has six lines interchanging there, and also the rail station that connects to outer London and the rest of England as well.
I was starving by then, and spotted a Burger King across the street so I had lunch there. I found Ashlee House (which has since been renamed Clink 261) and checked in. It was my first time at a hostel and I was given a bed in a room for 10. There were five double-deck beds in a really tiny room, and a sink. It was bare, but it was enough. I counted that there were six other occupants at that time. The male bathroom was on another floor, but that wasn’t a problem. What was a problem was they don’t have hot water in the day time so I couldn’t take a bath. I unpacked a little, left my laptop in the safe and set out to Dominion Theatre at Tottenham Court Station for Hillsong Church‘s 2:30 pm service.
The people at the church were really friendly and there was a good mix of nationalities. The service went well but I was jet lagged and couldn’t help dozing off several times during the sermon. The one thing I didn’t get was the never-ending applause for the band, who returned on stage and did one more song as an encore. It felt more like a concert than a church service.
After the service ended, I left for Covent Garden. It used to be a marketplace known as Convent Garden because a large fruit and vegetables garden was maintained by monks. The ‘n’ was later dropped due to a spelling misunderstanding. Today, it is known for being a shopping and entertainment district; the Royal Opera House is here, along with cafes, restaurants, and street performances as well.
After walking around Covent Garden, I didn’t have a plan as to where to go next so I decided to take a coffee break at Starbucks and plan an itinerary of some sort. It only struck me then that I hadn’t yet bought a map of London and so I found one that was pretty good. It was also then that I realized I had wandered onto the Strand, a street to the south of Covent Garden, running almost parallel to River Thames.
I walked down the Strand to Trafalgar Square and the sun was about to set. People were sitting on the steps in front of the National Gallery and enjoying the cool evening breeze. There were throngs of people snapping photos in front of Nelson’s Column, the fountains, the many statues and of course with the National Gallery.
After I was satisfied with the photos taken at Trafalgar Square, I walked down a street named The Mall that starts at Trafalgar Square, passes under the Admiralty Arch (pictured left) and then leads to the Buckingham Palace. The sun was setting and the city started to get more cozy from the warm hues of the street lights. I took a leisurely stroll through St. James’s Park and it was really nice because spring was starting and flowers were blooming. Walking through St. James’s Park, I saw the London Eye in the skyline beyond the Horse Guards.
I walked up Charing Cross Road towards Leicester Square and saw the TKTS booth for discounted musical tickets but decided that I would come back the next day to check out Phantom of the Opera tickets. Walked towards Chinatown and saw the usual sights of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. I decided to have fish and chips at Rock and Sole Plaice on Endell Street. I found the place without too much trouble but it was crowded so I ordered fried haddock with salt and vinegar for takeaway. The chips here are much healthier than processed fries, but salt and vinegar is an acquired taste, I must say.
I was really sleepy from jet lag and a lack of rest the night before, so I decided to call it a night, but I walked about four tube stations from Holborn back to King’s Cross St. Pancras so that I could take in the night sights. Took about forty minutes of a stroll, which turned out to be a waste of time and effort; there wasn’t much to see actually.
I was the first to get back to the room and the other occupants were not back yet. I was just eager to get to bed and wake up early to make the most of the next day, and so that was it for my first night in London.